HLAA Convention 2018

WID staff member, Josephine Schallehn, attended the 2018 Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention. The following are her highlights of the event.

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention in Minneapolis, MN, which offers myriad educational workshops on hearing loss, in addition to showcasing the latest technology and services for people with hearing loss. And needless to say, all presentations were real-time captioned, and the presentation rooms were looped, so attendees could listen to the workshops using the T-coil setting on their hearing aids or cochlear implants. (Learn more about loops here.)

A man speaks to the audience, captions onscreen to his right, an ASL interpreter woman to his left
The research symposium, “Listening in Noise,” with Andrew Oxenham, M.D. moderating and presenting | Photo by WID

One of the highlights of the convention was attending the research symposium, which focused on current and future approaches to one of the most vexing and frustrating issues that people with hearing loss encounter: how to listen and understand speech in noisy environments, a challenge that is also often referred to as the “cocktail noise problem.” Five experts from various fields represented on current research that may improve the circuitry used in hearing aids and cochlear implants to reduce/cancel noise. While the presentations were extremely informative and valuable and made excellent use of combining auditory and visual materials, they were nevertheless quite scientific. And the total length of the symposium was three hours.

Luckily, HLAA hosted an excellent one-hour webinar in August that succinctly recapped the crucial points presenters had made and how their research and findings may impact future development of hearing aids and cochlear implants. The consumer-friendly webinar can be replayed at any time, and it even includes a version of one of my favorite short videos shown during the symposium, i.e., a dancing outer hair cell.  The link to the webinar also allows for downloading the PDF used during the webinar.

Three people stand onstage and hold an award
Barbara Kelly of HLAA (center) with the rep from Galapro to her left and Kyle Wright from The Shubert Organization to her right | Photo by HLAA

“Radical Hospitality: Technology Solutions for Audience Inclusivity” was the other highlight and a total surprise at that because if The Shubert Organization and Galapro hadn’t been one of the awardees honored during the opening session of the convention, I wouldn’t have found out about how the app Galapro was developed. And I also wouldn’t have changed my workshop selection for Saturday morning and enjoyed a very informative and funny presentation given by Kyle Wright, Director of Digital Projects at The Shubert Organization.

The Shubert Organization, which owns the majority of theaters on Broadway, uses the Galapro to make live theater and opera performances accessible to everyone.  Theatergoers can download Galapro’s app to their own mobile devices and access subtitles in multiple languages, audio descriptions, closed captioning, and amplification during the performance. I haven’t been to a live performance in decades because, as a hard-of-hearing individual, not being able to follow a live performance is a major concern for me. However, Galapro promises to make live performances accessible to all. Most theaters and live performance venues likely have not heard about Galapro, and here is an excellent advocacy opportunity to let them know that the app exists by pointing them to The Shubert Organization and Kyle Wright if they are interested in finding out what is involved in bringing this cost-effective, mobile, and simple solution to their venues.

A crowded room with several presentation screens, an ASL interpreter, and captioning on the screens
One of the workshops | Photo by WID

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Job Announcement: Projects Coordinator

Note: This position has been filled. Thank you for your interest.

ABOUT WID:

The World Institute on Disability (WID) is an internationally recognized nonprofit public policy center. WID’s mission, in communities and nations worldwide, is to eliminate barriers to full social integration and increase employment, economic security, and health care for persons with disabilities. WID creates innovative programs and tools; conducts research, public education, training, and advocacy campaigns; and provides technical assistance.

Currently WID operates with a staff of 10 employees, a variety of interns and volunteers, and numerous partners and collaborators; with corporate headquarters located at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California. Since its founding in 1983, WID has earned a reputation for high-quality research and public education on a wide range of issues. The Board of Directors and staff, over half of whom are people with disabilities, are respected national leaders in the disability rights field as well as in industry, government, and social services. This enables WID to bring a cross-disability perspective to the policy arena. Information on WID’s programs can be found at www.wid.org.

POSITION SUMMARY:

The Projects Coordinator position directly supports the Director of Operations and the daily operations of the agency by responding to information and referral requests, assisting in WID front office/reception area related duties and providing reasonable accommodation upon request to staff with disabilities. Additionally, this position will be trained to be a researcher to proctor and work on WIDs disability usability testing program. This position assists in special event planning, including event logistics, registration, and donor acknowledgements. This position assists in the development and distribution of website, print, video and social media communication collateral. In addition, the Projects Coordinator will be assigned to various contract/grant project work that includes research and service initiatives.

HOURS:

40 hours per week

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Experience using MS Office Suite, dropbox, Gmail and the Internet
  • Professional writing and oral communication skills
  • Experience using office equipment and phones
  • Friendly, conscientious, organized, detail oriented, punctual
  • Works well independently, takes initiative
  • Quick learner, ability to problem solve
  • Ability to travel for project related assignments 

PREFERENCES: 

  • Experience creating PowerPoint documents and visual presentations of complex data
  • Experience using Internet sites to efficiently arrange, purchase and track multiple travel itineraries
  • Experience proofreading, formatting and mailing newsletter articles using email campaign software such as MailChimp
  • Experience with online survey software (such as Survey Gizmo) and data analysis
  • Experience with content management systems, WordPress experience preferable
  • Video production experience preferred
  • Experience with event planning and marketing
  • Knowledge of and/or personal experience with Independent Living history and philosophy
  • Experience performing personal assistance services to people with disabilities

REPORTING RELATIONSHIP:

Director of Operations

STATUS:  

Non-Exempt, full-time, benefits

COMPENSATION:

$40,000.00 annual salary

APPLICATION PROCESS:

Send Resume, Cover letter and References to: World Institute on Disability

EMAIL: kat@wid.org (WID acknowledges receipt of applications by email only)

Application Deadline: June 29, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. PDT

Proposed Start Date: Mid-July

REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS:

  • Address reasonable accommodation requests for the application/interview process to kat@wid.org.
  • WID promotes a scent/chemical free environment. To support this effort, WID asks that all applicants refrain from wearing scented products while in its office.

TRAVEL/RELOCATION:

WID cannot cover the cost of travel or relocation, but encourages all interested applicants to apply.

The World Institute on Disability is an equal opportunity employer with a commitment to diversity. Individuals will not be discriminated against regardless of race, ethnicity, religion (creed), national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability or veteran status, and other personal characteristics.

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Several open books, piled on top of each other with pencils resting inside

Empowering People with Disabilities to Achieve their Financial Goals with TD Bank

The topic of financial empowerment has increasingly influenced economic discourse in recent years, as a growing number of Americans experience financial insecurity. One particular group of Americans, however, receives nominal attention when it comes to financial empowerment and these are individuals with disabilities.

Research shows that providing people of all abilities and backgrounds with the financial knowledge, tools, access and resources they need to make better financial decisions is not only a social good, it’s also economically expedient, increasing labor participation, while reducing costly government benefits.

In their ground-breaking work, Financial Literacy and Economic Outcomes: Evidence and Policy Implications, Mitchell and Lusardi suggest that nearly one-third of wealth inequality can be explained by the financial-knowledge gap. According to the authors, this gap could increase as consumers confront ever-more sophisticated financial products and services.

Given that around 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population – have a disability, according to the 2010 census; nearly 16 million Americans with a disability age 25 or older have at least some college education; and over two million have annual incomes over $50,000 (more here), providing financial education and access to people with disabilities is vital to facilitating a healthier, more inclusive economy.

Illuminating a history of invisibility

People with disabilities have faced economic exclusion throughout history, largely owing to discriminatory attitudes and policies. And 28 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with disabilities continue to battle against rampant societal and institutionalized bias.

Frequently stereotyped as unproductive and/or costly to accommodate, individuals with disabilities have suffered higher rates of unemployment along with lower levels of income and savings.

A 2015 survey from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation shows that people with disabilities reported lower scores on a financial literacy test than their non-disabled counterparts (44% vs. 53% average) and had lower self-perceived levels of financial knowledge (70% vs. 81%). People with disabilities are also more than twice as likely to find it “very difficult” to cover expenses and bills (23% vs. 9%), and twice as likely to be unbanked (12% vs. 6%), according to leading research.

Exacerbating the equity gap, many government disability benefit programs cap savings at $2,000, a clear disincentive for individuals with disabilities to become financially self-sufficient.

Addressing this inequity demands a radical shift in public perception along with educational tools and opportunities that empower individuals with disabilities to lead more independent and productive lives.

The power of progress

Thanks to growing awareness around the economic advantages of financial empowerment, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act is one of a handful of progressive policies that is enabling individuals with disabilities to save money for the first time in history, without jeopardizing their Federal benefits.  Governmental agencies, nonprofits and purpose-driven banks (including TD Bank, Bank of America, Citi and others) have begun introducing programs and services to better serve current and future customers with disabilities.

In fact, TD Bank recently launched an Adaptive Financial Education program that offers a variety of on-site seminars along with interactive tools, tutorials and games that enable “individuals with diverse abilities” and their caregivers to navigate their financial lives more independently and successfully. This program teaches the fundamentals of banking to a segment of people that has been woefully underserved.

As a direct consequence of these new policies and programs, individuals with disabilities are able to work more and save more, eliminate overdraft fees, and improve their credit scores. They are purchasing more homes, establishing college savings plans for themselves and their children, and leading more fulfilling lives.

Given this trend, I can’t wait to see the 2020 census results.

Of this I am sure: When we, as a country, financially empower people with disabilities, we create a more vibrant and inclusive economy for all.

Written by Thomas Foley, J.D., Managing Director of the World Institute on Disability; published on the WID website April 16, 2018.

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Job Announcement: Executive Secretary to the Executive Director and Board of Directors

Note: This position has been filled. Thank you for your interest.

ABOUT WID:

The World Institute on Disability (WID) is an internationally recognized nonprofit public policy center. WID’s mission in communities and nations worldwide is to eliminate barriers to full social integration and increase employment, economic security and health care for persons with disabilities. WID creates innovative programs and tools; conducts research, public education, training and advocacy campaigns and provides technical assistance.

Currently, WID operates with a staff of 12 employees, many collaborators, consultants, interns and regular volunteers and is located at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California. Since its founding in 1983, WID has earned a reputation for high-quality research and public education on a wide range of issues. The board of directors and staff, over half of whom are people with disabilities, are respected national leaders in the disability rights field, as well as in industry, government and social services. This enables WID to bring a cross-disability perspective to the policy arena. Information on WID’s programs can be found at www.wid.org.

DESCRIPTION:

The goal of the Executive Secretary to the Executive Director and Board of Directors position is to enable the work of the board and executive director to occur in a smooth and seamless manner to support WID’s ability to carry out its mission. This position provides support to the WID Board of Directors and Executive Director by working at the direction of and in conjunction with the Executive Director, focusing on resource development, communications and public relations.

POSITION SUMMARY:

Support to Board of Directors

  • Prepare agendas and write, draft or gather briefing materials for quarterly and special board and committee meetings;
  • Schedule meetings of the Executive Director and various board committees and members;
  • Handle travel arrangements for board members and the Executive Director as needed;
  • Handle all reasonable accommodation requests by board members and Executive Director;
  • Attend, in person or by phone, board and executive committee meetings. Write and publish minutes. Maintain corporate minute book and electronic files;
  • Plan and carry out meeting preparations and logistical arrangements, including meeting locations, hotel sites, transportation companies, restaurants and audio/visual companies as needed;
  • Manage communication with board members on resource development activities;
  • Update board website when website is complete;
  • Prepare action items and follow up after each meeting;
  • Plan annual Board Orientation and Continuing Education programs for directors;
  • Draft appropriate correspondence for Chairperson and/or Executive Director;
  • Prepare briefing papers, outlines, Chairperson’s agenda, etc. for Chairperson;
  • Manage annual request to board members for completion of conflicts of interest statements;
  • Plan committee calendar and timing of meetings for standing and ad hoc committees;
  • Attend, by phone, committee meetings. Write and publish minutes or summarize meetings for consent calendar;
  • Follow up with committee chairs/members on action items; and
  • Prepare written advance materials for reporting to the Board of Directors.

Support to Executive Director

  • Provide reasonable accommodation support to Executive Director as needed;
  • Manage calendar, travel arrangements, appointments, etc.;
  • Assist with material development associated with grant proposals, partnering agreement, letters of intent and collaboration;
  • Oversee the management of contact lists associated with resource development and fundraising activities such as special events, mailings, donor correspondence, etc.;
  • Develop an annual calendar of events related to board meetings, WID special events and grants submissions and reporting, including all timelines for all activities associated with these items;
  • Serve as editor and publicist of WID publications, reports, proposals, etc.; and
  • Other duties as assigned by the Executive Director to successfully support the agenda of the organization.

LOCATION:

The position is intended to be carried out remotely with standardized hours in relation to the Pacific Time Zone.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Strong writing skills, including composition and proofreading;
  • Strong oral communication skills;
  • Highly organized and detail oriented; and
  • Associate of Arts degree with a minimum of three years of experience working with boards and executive leadership in an administrative assistant or executive secretary role.

PREFERENCES: 

  • Bachelors of Arts degree; and
  • Personal or professional experience with the Independent Living Movement.

REPORTING RELATIONSHIP:

Executive Director

STATUS:

Non-Exempt, Part-Time

COMPENSATION:

$25-$30/hour for an average of 30 hours/week (some flexibility in time required), plus benefits

APPLICATION PROCESS:

Send resume, cover letter, writing sample and references to: kat@wid.org
RE: Secretary for the Board of Directors and Executive Director Search

Headquarters:

World Institute on Disability
3075 Adeline Street, Suite 155
Berkeley, CA  94703

Proposed Start Date:

March 1, 2018, or when filled

REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS:

  • Address reasonable accommodation requests for the application/interview process to the Human Resources office (kat@wid.org); and
  • WID promotes a scent/chemical free environment. To support this effort, WID asks that all applicants refrain from wearing scented products while in its office.

TRAVEL/RELOCATION:

WID cannot cover the cost of travel or relocation but encourages all interested applicants to apply.

All persons—including people with disabilities, elders, women, and people of racial and ethnic minority—are encouraged to apply.

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CES 2018

WID staff member, Kat Zigmont, attended the 2018 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The following is her report on the event.

A collage of three photos: Anita Aaron being guided through the accessibility section of the exibit floor, CES 2018 Whoa logo, Kat Standing in front of large CES sign.

Accessibility Services

At the CES 2018 convention, we had excellent service from the Accessibility Services team. We were informed that there were eight sighted guides working at any given time. The service was friendly, flexible, and accommodating to the needs of the convention participants.

FeedbackInformation & Accessibility Services Desk at CES 2018

As a first time participant at CES, I was unprepared for the size and number of venues, as well as the amount of people and vendors. I found the accessibility group that was there with me to review products very helpful and communicative with regards to their strategy on making their way through the event and giving tips on interesting things to see.

Trends

In the vision loss area, there were many versions of glasses and/or glasses attachments that assisted in seeing text and navigation. I found that there were various grades of the same type of products; some had much more advanced technology than others, such as a product that was wireless and small versus a similar product that was wired and a bit clunky.

Highlights

I have put an asterisk (*) near my favorite products listed below.

Visited Booths

Vision Loss

*American Printing House (APH) – Graphiti

www.aph.org

APH had a new product, Graphiti, which was touch interfacing using variable-height pins. With this device, the user can view graphics imputed via a USB, HDMI or SD port, as well as Bluetooth. The graphic display would present accessible forms of graphics, such as charts, maps, photographs and other dynamic graphical content. This device also allows the user to draw on the surface; as your finger touches the screen, the pins rise and follow your touch, offering haptic feedback. The price of Graphiti has not been set yet.

Beltmap – The electronic guide dogThe Beltmap booth

www.beltmap.com

Beltmap was an interesting concept where an individual would wear a belt that offered navigational directions through vibrations. The Beltmap would connect via Bluetooth to the user’s Smartphone and would use Google maps (specifically) to get directions. As a user walks and turns, Beltmap can tell her direction and give her vibrations on the side where she needs to turn. Once she turns, the vibrations stop, indicating that she is supposed to walk forward until otherwise alerted. The unique aspect to this device is that it is not auditory. The fallback is that it is not yet able to work indoors/on Wifi and thus, could not work in airports or conferences, examples of loud areas where this device could be useful.

Dot Watch – Braille watchThe Dot Watch

www.dotincorp.com/store

Dot Watch is an attractive, Braille watch that allows you to sync with your Smartphone to check notifications, get alarms and see who is calling. The Dot Watch costs $359.00.

FACIL’iti – Websites’ accessibility

www.facil-iti.com

FACIL’iti offers a product that can make an existing website more accessible to individuals with vision loss and certain cognitive and mobility disabilities. This system inserts a profile module into an already existing site where an individual will specify his needs. Once the profile is complete, the software will adjust the site in a variety of ways to help make the site more accessible. For example, as a dyslexic user you can specify having an issue with b’s and d’s, and the software code will then identify those letters to you. Other examples of access aides are zooming capabilities, as well as making larger targets for those who have shaky hands. This product is approximately $400.00 to have it added to your website.

ICI Vision – Expanding the limits of visionThe ICI Vision booth

www.ici.vision

ICI Vision is a medical device company that has made a pair of glasses that claims to recover central vision due to retinal damage. As it was explained to me, the glasses record video of surrounding areas, and then they project light into the wearer’s eyes that restore images where once the user had blind spots. This device was not able to be tried on at the CES event as it was still in medical trials. The target audience seems to be especially small, and there was no research that could be referenced at their booth.

*ORCAM MyEye 2.0The OrCam 2.0

www.orcam.com

ORCAM MyEye 2.0 is a lightweight device that snaps onto any eyeglass frame magnetically. It reads printed or digital text, recognizes faces and identifies products and common items, such as currency. While wearing this device, you can point your finger ahead of you toward the item you want read, and the sound comes out of the back of the device near your ear. This device worked reasonably well and was nicely designed so that it is appealing and pretty discrete.

Project RayProject Ray booth with products displayed

http://project-ray.com

Project Ray provides technology designed to facilitate the operation of common Smartphones by people who have vision loss by allowing them to use any off-the-shelf Smartphones with their tactile stickers that have chips that facilitates phone functions. These stickers are a tactile add-on that have quick function and navigation purposes. The product’s main feature is a simple, unified user interface that is automatically imposed across all system functions, applications and services, using only two types of interactive functions working as an overlay on top of existing mobile applications. This booth was also the only one that had a disabled exhibitor, which was refreshing.

Vditory – Enabling visually impaired to do moreThe Vditory product

www.vditory.com

Vditory is a pair of glasses that describes the user’s surroundings, including telling him if he is indoors or outdoors and describing the objects around him. Also, if a face were detected, Vditory would tell the user the face’s age, gender, and emotions. The device has face recognition for common faces, as well as color and currency recognition. There is also a GPS tracker and navigational modes.

VFO

www.vfogroup.com

The VFO booth had a very sophisticated, new, multifunctional magnifier. The interface was large, color touch screens that allowed you to pinch-zoom selected areas. The device was also an OCR scanner where you could export data to a USB. Additionally, there was voice output to read selected text. The multifunction of this magnifier was very appealing. The cost of this item was approximately $4,600.00.

Physical Disability/Chronic Pain

Infinity Massage Chairs – Wellness for life

http://infinitymassagechairs.com/

The Riage X3 chairs by Infinity Massage Chairs come with automated massage programs, but they are also customizable for when you want to target specific muscle groups or areas. One massage ability of the Riage X3 chairs is their L-Track, which covers your upper body vertically down the natural S curvature of the spine then across the lower body horizontally for complete alleviation of spinal tension; this provided long lasting comfort. Another massage ability of the Riage X3 chairs is their reflexology foot rollers to cure fatigue in your feet. Its shifting motion also helps blood circulation. The price point for this item was approximately $7,700.00.

Kleiber Bionics – Bionic Prosthetic Hand

www.kleiberbionics.org

Kleiber Bionics was displaying a Bionic Prosthetic Hand for people with various degrees of amputation. It had tactile sensors and varying grasp patterns. The prosthetic was attractive and looked durable and flexible. Unfortunally, it was difficult to get more detailed information from the individuals at the booth.

*Oscar Senior – The easiest way for seniors to connect to the worldThe Oscar Senior booth and products

www.oscarsenior.com

Oscar Senior is a telecom device that integrates Smartphone technology into a large and easy to understand display. It facilitates communication between the user and their families and caregivers with shortcut buttons that use icons and images to help easily identify functions. Functions include video calling, applications and quick web navigation. It’s an attractive design with useful applications. While it is marketed to seniors only, I can see this functionality being useful for cognitive and mobility disabilities, as well.

*Oska Pulse – When pain stops, life begins.The Oska Pulse

www.oskawellness.com

Oska Pulse is a device that uses optimized PEMF to restore the electrical potential cells need to receive nutrients and oxygen, which stimulates cellular regeneration. This relieves pain and activates the body’s natural recovery process. Oska Pulse promotes capillary dilation, muscle ease and pain reduction. It can help dilate blood vessels, which may reduce inflammation, increase blood flow and release the body’s natural endorphins. Additionally, it helps break the cycle of inflammation and pain by activating a cell-specific negative feedback loop that promotes joint and muscle recovery. The device is attractive and able to be worn discreetly. The price of this device is approximately $400. I actually bought this device for my chronic pain, as it is an interesting, non-invasive alternative to similar products.

VIVY Heats – Canned heat the reaches deep

www.vivyheats.com

VIVY is a consumer pain management product that offers the deep heating properties of diathermy in a safe, simple-to-use device that’s small enough to carry anywhere. VIVY relieves pain, eases muscle tension and improves joint mobility around chronic pain or joint injuries. It is an attractive, portable device that has a Smartphone app accompaniment. However, VIVY is currently an investigational device only and is not yet available for sale in America.

WHILL – Electronic wheelchairThe WHILL wheelchairs

www.whill.us

WHILL electronic wheelchairs are compact, attractive, all-terrain personal mobility devices. They have a modern design that is comfortable and ergonomic. They have sensitive joystick controls and all-wheel drive functionality.

Hearing Loss

SignAll – We translate sign language. Automatically.

www.signall.us

SignAll is an automated sign language translating system. The SignAll team worked with Gallaudet to record a database of commonly used signs and then created software that could recognize ASL and convert it to text or vice versa. SignAll is still piloting this product and hopes to develop a mobile application version as well as have more language databases. This is an innovative idea for ASL translation with the potential for many future applications.

*SmartEar – …Sound you can seeThe SmartEar booth with devices on the table

www.smartear.fr

SmartEar is a lighting system for your home that offers alerts. Each light is portable and customizable. With the app accompaniment, you can set alarms with different colors, pulsing of different speeds and duration. The SmartEar devices can hear the auditory cue such as the doorbell, fire alarm or telephone and will display your customized lighted visual alert. Alerts can be queued to all SmartEar devices in the house or just one. This design is practical for use in homes and offices.

Olive Union: Next-Gen Hearing Aid – Consumer grade hearing aidThe Olive device

www.oliveunion.com

The Olive Union: Next-Gen Hearing Aid is a consumer-grade hearing aid. The Olive was very nice looking but seemed a bit big. The app accompaniment offers hearing self-test, customized hearing profile and an active hearing status management. The cost of one Olive device is approximately $100.

*Noveto’s Sowlo – Sound delivered directly to your ears, and your ears only.

http://www.noveto.biz/technology/

Sowlo technology focuses the audio content directly and solely into the user’s ears, all without any intermediate hardware such as earphones. The system constantly tracks the user’s position and dynamically focuses the audio beams to follow the user’s ears, creating unique abilities to consume sound at a higher volume in a personal manner without affecting others’ experiences.

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WID Welcomes New Board Members: 2018

For Immediate Release

Berkeley, CA, USA–The World Institute on Disability welcomes four new members to the Board of Directors.  These representatives from law and policy, technology and banking include:

  • Tali Bray, San Francisco, Chief Information Officer for IT for IT, Wells Fargo
  • Darlene Hemerka, Equal Justice Works Fellow, the Public Interest Law Center
  • Neil Milliken, Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion, Atos
  • Brian Scarpelli, Senior Policy Counsel, ACT | The App Association

“These four outstanding individuals bring to WID enhanced ability to view our work through a broader geographic lens and to strengthen the impact of our work by building on expertise from technology, industry, law and disability rights as we confront critical issues facing people with disabilities both domestically and internationally,” said WID CEO, Anita Aaron.

Photos of four new board members

Bray, Hemerka, Milliken, and Scarpelli join WID’s current board members:

  • Carol J. Bradley, J.D., Chair, Disability Compliance Officer, Sutter Health
  • Heather Dowdy, Vice Chair, Accessibility Program Lead, Microsoft
  • Claire Forrest, Public Relations Coordinator, MacPhail Center for Music
  • Kevin Foster, Director of HR Operations, Motorola Solutions, Inc.
  • Sheridan Gates, MED, PCC, Treasurer Executive Coach, Purpose At Work
  • Eli Gelardin, Secretary, Executive Director, Marin Center for Independent Living (MCIL)
  • Malcom Glenn, Public Policy Manager, Uber
  • Nanci Linke-Ellis, Partner, General Manager, Captionfish
  • Julie McCarthy, former Director of Human Resources, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, San Francisco
  • Ari Ne’eman, Chief Executive Officer, MySupport.com
  • Michael Palmer, Senior Manager, Accessibility and Regulatory, T-Mobile
  • Debra Ruh, CEO, Ruh Global Communications
  • Frances W. West, IT Executive
  • Rachel S. Wolkowitz, J.D., Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP

For more information about WID’s Board, go to the Meet Our Board page.

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Several painted tiles, pushed together to create a wall of artwork

AHCA Will Hurt People on Medicaid

WID News Analysis
May 22, 2017

AHCA Will Be Detrimental to People with Disabilities

Members of Congress recently passed the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) with the goal of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”). The proposed legislation, if enacted, would drastically harm Medicaid by reducing eligibility, creating work requirements, and moving from federal matching funds to “block grants” for funding. These changes will jeopardize the health care of people with disabilities across the country and reduce the quality of care for people who remain on Medicaid. The AHCA with all its Medicaid rules need to be stopped in its tracks – and the disability community should fight it nationwide.

Rolling Back the ACA’s Medicaid Expansion               

Medicaid is a health care program for poor, elderly and disabled residents that is run at the state level and uses a mix of state and federal funds to operate. It also is run using a mix of state and federal rules around eligibility, coverage and other means. Current rules allow Americans on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to disability and low income to receive full Medicaid coverage, and the ACA included a “Medicaid expansion” that has opened eligibility to people earning up to 133% of poverty, or around $16,080/year, in some states. People with disabilities have lower incomes and a higher rate of poverty than people without disabilities, and many may not receive SSI if they are doing some work or have a more limited disability, so a Medicaid expansion allows many in our community to have affordable health care and live safe lives.

Unfortunately, the AHCA would roll back this Medicaid expansion over the next several years and kick many people with low-to-moderate income off the program. Some research has found that people with lower income tend to work limited hours and are not eligible for employer health care, work with smaller companies that are not required to offer employer-covered health care, or otherwise work in industries that do not offer health care. This group also includes many people with disabilities, as they may have difficulty working full time or may have limited job opportunities. Medicaid provides vital health care for low-income people with disabilities in these situations – so reducing eligibility and kicking them off may eliminate their health care entirely. (This is especially true because under the AHCA, private insurers can charge much more for people with pre-existing conditions, so people who lose Medicaid likely won’t be able to afford private coverage at all.)

Work Requirements Target the Most Vulnerable

“Work requirements” will also create problems under the AHCA. The Affordable Care Act prohibited states from putting forward these requirements, which force Medicaid recipients who are deemed “able to work” to work a certain number of hours to keep their benefit. However, the AHCA will allow states to forego these requirements without any barriers. Research has shown that as of 2015, a full 59 % of Medicaid recipients who are able to work do, and 78% live in the household of somebody who does work. The rest may do informal and unpaid work, such as taking care of family members with disabilities or they may themselves have a disability that is not diagnosed or officially recorded and does prevent them from holding a regular job. People with disabilities likely make up a large share of Medicaid recipients who do not hold a job, so work requirements endanger this vital benefit.

A Bad Switch to Block Grants

The AHCA also changes how the federal government pays states from its current “matching funds” system over to block grants. Under the current rules, the federal government shares the costs with states: so for every $1 that states spend, the federal government reimburses them $0.50. Under block grants, though, the federal government gives states a fixed amount of money for their Medicaid program, and each state gets to decide how much extra it wants to spend, even if that is next-to-nothing. This is funded through a per capita system where funds are based or the number of Medicaid enrollees in each state. There are also block grants for certain populations or services which can vary state-by-state and be used to eliminate Medicaid coverage at many levels. These will combine to scale back the eligibility for Medicaid, as well as the services provided through Medicaid, as required and quality-of-care provisions will be taken away. This will affect all existing or potential Medicaid recipients in many states – and because people with disabilities have higher health-related costs, states may find ways to not cover vital health care services or just keep people with disabilities off the program entirely.

Speak Out Against the AHCA

The AHCA is extremely dangerous for people with disabilities. It jeopardizes the quality of coverage for our community and, for many of us, the ability to have health care at all. These three rules around Medicaid – rolling back the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, work requirements and block grants – will especially affect us, but there are plenty of others as well, such as the ability for insurance companies to charge more for pre-existing conditions, expanding the list of those conditions, and rolling back women’s health programs. However, AHCA has still not passed the Senate, and there are many opportunities to push back against its many problems. You can call your legislator, work with disability organizations, or even use social media to spread the word. So let’s fight for health care together and support our community’s right to health!

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Pre-existing Conditions Under the AHCA

WID News Analysis
May 22, 2017

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, sought to do something revolutionary in the United States, which was to not only make health care available to everyone, but to simultaneously eliminate the negative impact that its predecessors had on people with pre-existing conditions, which disproportionately affected people with disabilities, those with low incomes, and women. Old forms of health care lumped people with pre-existing conditions together under a pre-existing conditions category, which ultimately led to high-risk pool placement and an array of associated high costs.

High-risk Pools

Historically, people placed in high-risk pools have had pre-existing conditions that were deemed too expensive by insurers. Pools offered exorbitantly-priced premiums, with insurers able to charge up to 200% above private individual market rates; annual and lifetime caps were placed on recipients’ medical expenses, and before people could receive care, most had to pay $1,000 or higher for their deductibles, and in some states, $5,000 or higher. People placed in high-risk pools are also often subject to annual and lifetime limits on their health care expenses, ultimately leaving them without the means to pay for their necessary health care expenses once they cap out.

Below is an image of a list of pre-existing conditions, such as cerebral palsy, paralysis, and muscular dystrophy; for a more comprehensive list, visit Kaiser Family Foundation’s website.

Graphic; List of examples of pre-existing conditions.

Fielding costs like these is a burden, particularly for people with low incomes, which overlaps with the portion of the population with disabilities. In 2015, 27% of people with disabilities lived below the poverty line in the United States; in Mississippi and New Mexico, it is higher than 33%.

Obamacare requires that everyone have health insurance or opt out and pay a fee; because of this model, people with low incomes who also have expensive pre-existing conditions can more comfortably afford care. The American Health Care Act (AHCA), also known as Trumpcare, proposes that the country regress to old forms of health care that separate people with pre-existing conditions from the rest of the market and drive up their costs so that people with fewer health care needs can save.

Backers of the AHCA claim that people with pre-existing conditions will be taken care of because states will be allotted two buckets of funds, one of which is specifically for people placed in high-risk pools, the second of which states can use as they see fit. However, the funds from the second bucket could potentially be transferred to the first bucket if needed; realistically, this money could run out or insurers could choose to charge high premiums and deductibles in order to avoid pulling from both buckets.

ACA Subsidies vs. AHCA Tax Credit

Currently, insurance subsidies or grants are available to people if they meet certain qualifications, one of the main ones being that the individual would have to be deemed ineligible for coverage through an employer or a government health care program for at least one month in the year. Another primary qualifier is recipients’ incomes must be at or below 100-400% of the federal poverty level. Under the AHCA (Trumpcare), people meeting these qualifications would receive a tax credit instead, which would not exceed $4,000 regardless of health status. Thus, a 60-year-old in the low-income bracket (around $20,000/year) with a pre-existing condition, who has significant health care needs, could see his or her aid drop by thousands of dollars.

Get Involved

The most vulnerable members of our society are in danger of losing essential health care, and it boils down to the new administration and its constituents wanting to save some money, rather than take care of all members of society. Whether it’s you or someone you know that may be affected by these changes to our health care system, the time to speak out is now.

Ways You Can Contribute

Hop on social media, share your story, and tag it with #IAmAPreexistingCondition. People with pre-existing conditions are sharing their stories all over the Internet with this hashtag, bringing to light how their needs are in danger of being set on the back burner.

Contact your state’s representatives. It is their job to represent you and your interests. You can find your representatives on the USA.gov’s elected officials page.

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WID’s Dr. Saxton Delivers Keynote at Sexual Violence Conference

For Immediate Release

Berkeley, CA, USA–On Saturday, April 8, WID’s Director of Research and Training, Dr. Marsha Saxton, was the keynote speaker for UC Berkeley’s second annual Sexual Violence Conference. Its theme was “Strength through Healing” and its goal was to break the silence and bring the voices of marginalized communities to the forefront of the conversation around sexual violence.

One of the senators from the ASUC, UC Berkeley’s student government, Rosa Kwak, hosted the event in Dwinelle Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. This conference, “by students and for students,” was filled with dialogue, learning, and deconstruction of sexual violence and discussion of intersectionalities. There were numerous workshops, and Senator Kwak and her team encouraged healing through coloring, poetry, writing, and reflection. There were several certified counselors from BAWAR (Bay Area Women Against Rape) available all day.

Dr. Saxton opened up the morning with a keynote about the intersectionality between disability and sexual violence. She spoke about her experience at the World Institute on Disability, especially in writing both Sticks and Stones: Disabled People’s Stories of Abuse, Defiance and Resilience and Curriculum on Abuse Prevention and Empowerment (CAPE).

A woman stands on stage with a wheel of power and control projected behind her
Marsha talks about the CAPE wheel of power and control | Photo by WID

She first generally described vulnerable populations, saying, “Women are taught to be passive, even in the face of assault.” She explained her experiences with a self-defense class in her younger years in Boston where she first learned how to scream “no” at attackers until it became second nature to her. She eased into disability-specific challenges, such as the fact that women with disabilities are assaulted at a rate of three times or more than women without disabilities.

Dr. Saxton also described the need for better sexual education for all people. From her work around Sticks and Stones, she has come to believe that people with disabilities may have heightened risks of abuse due to potentially confusing boundaries in interactions with caretakers and personal attendants. For this reason, she explained that children with disabilities would benefit from sexual education and might even need more sexual education than children without disabilities.

She also spoke about her experience as a professor at UC Berkeley in the Disability Studies Department and how much she learned about the issue on campus from her students and from online resources, such as http://survivorsupport.berkeley.edu/.

She ended her keynote by lifting up the marginalized, the victimized, the silenced constituencies and promising that each person could do his or her part in ending sexual violence. “We need to talk more with the men in our lives, peers, professors, coaches, faculty. We need allies!” she said to a round of applause.

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Congress Agrees to a Spending Bill That Cuts AFI

WID News Analysis
May 5, 2017

On April 30, Congress put forward an omnibus spending bill that will keep the government funded through September 30, 2017 – and it has major implications for people with disabilities. Certain disability-related programs will remain funded, but others will see steep cuts or be eliminated entirely. It is important to understand these cuts and advocate for programs that support people with disabilities. This is vital for independence, well-being and financial success for our community.

A major initiative that was eliminated is the Assets for Independence (AFI) program. AFI has existed for almost 20 years and last year, provided $18.95 million toward Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), which support people with disabilities around independence and career goals. These federally funded IDAs provide an asset limit disregard, one of the few ways people on SSI can safely save more than $2,000 for their future. IDAs also provide matching funds. Thus, as account-holders invest in their own future (for every dollar that a person saves toward a goal for independence, such as purchasing a home or developing their careers), a government-supported organization will provide $1 or more to help in that process. These accounts are vital for many people with disabilities to build successful lives and independence – IDAs encourage account-holders to invest in their own futures and provide the resources to help them achieve their goals.

Unfortunately, eliminating the AFI program jeopardizes IDAs now and into the future. It will get rid of the opportunity for people with disabilities to open new IDAs, which will limit their personal investments. It also threatens existing IDAs. Accounts are run through organizations that receive government grants, and they may not be able to keep programs running going forward or provide future matching funds. The AFI program has already made a difference in the lives of thousands of Americans – getting rid of AFI and IDAs will eliminate the opportunity for more Americans to invest in their futures and jeopardizes those who have already started on that journey.

Disability advocates have been fighting to keep the AFI program alive for the past several years, and lawmakers have been talking about eliminating it for some time now. The disability efforts were largely successful. When lawmakers learned more about AFI and IDAs and realized their importance, they were more likely to support the programs. This cut, however, comes as a part of a larger $900 million cut to the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education that is included in the omnibus spending bill through September. Many advocates are beginning to organize and push to restore funding for AFI, as well as build upon it even more. We look forward to seeing this progress moving forward.

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